The Man Who Wrote the Book on CRISPR and What He Taught Me

Kevin Davies literally wrote the book on CRISPR, the revolutionary new gene editing technology that earned Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier a Nobel Prize a few months ago. Today, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a talk he gave on that superb book, Editing Humanity.

If you’re not familiar, CRISPR is a technology based on the immune systems of bacteria. Bacteria find a particular genetic sequence they recognize from past infections and cut the genes in order to protect themselves. Scientists have harnessed this primordial system to cut and splice genes.

In today’s talk, Davies highlighted how accessible this revolutionary new technology really is. The equipment is not expensive and many labs could potentially use it. This presents great opportunities but also very real risks of misapplication.

CRISPR has been used successfully to treat sickle cell anemia in early trials. Davies noted that it has also been used to treat progeria in mice, which might some day bring an end to this deadly disease that ages children before their time.

I even got the opportunity to ask Davies a question, and inquired which other applications of CRISPR excite him most. He mentioned possible applications for cystic fibrosis and cancer therapy. He also said that as a graduate student in genetics, the idea of precisely editing genes seemed like science fiction, but today is a reality. It amazed me to think of how much the field has evolved.

Another interesting tidbit from the talk: due to COVID, Doudna accepted her Nobel Prize in the backyard of her home in Berkeley! I found that image to be quite a beautiful one.

One great silver lining of COVID has been how much easier it’s become to attend talks like this! In the past, one might have had to be in Cambridge, MA to attend, but now it’s open to everyone. I hope we continue to offer a remote option for these discussions even once in person events are possible again.

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Photo: “File:Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna.jpg” by For Emmanuelle Charpentier portrait, credit Bianca Fioretti of Hallbauer & Fioretti. For Jennifer Doudna portrait, credit User:Duncan.Hull and The Royal Society. is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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